Defense against weapons has always been a heated topic among martial artists and self-defense practitioners. Opinions vary based on style, background and experience, but the seriousness of the subject requires that everyone think about it because trying an ineffective H2HC technique in real street fights can get you killed. One critic of commonly taught weapons defenses in hand-to-hand-combat training is Montreal-based Richard Dimitri, founder of senshido. Richard Dimtri notes that many H2HC instructors would rather modify reality to fit their system than adapt their system to fit real life. Example: the H2HC training partner who attacks in a manner that makes the defense work or who holds his weapon in a position that makes it easy to execute the prescribed disarm.
In contrast, attacks in real street fights involve chaotic, ballistic motions, and real attackers move rapidly before, during and after the assault. They retract their knives after thrusting and slashing and follow up with more thrusts and slashes. When they hold their blades stationary to rob or threaten you, they rarely do so in a manner that lends itself to picture-perfect disarming.
Senshido Founder Richard Dimitri's Approach to Increasing the "Real" in Real Street Fights
The first step toward overcoming that deficiency in one's H2HC training, Richard Dimitri says, is to restructure your H2HC training so your partner really tries to “stab" or “shoot" you. It's also crucial to create the emotional conditions that exist in a real street fight. To do that, you need a partner who issues verbal threats and who behaves and reacts the way real criminals do in real street fights.
The first component of an effective defense is awareness — not just awareness of your general environment but also awareness of pre-assault indicators and the rituals of violence, Richard Dimitri says. You must be able to recognize the situational and behavioral elements that precede an armed attack in real street fights, along with the body language and movements.
Before attempting to disarm a thug using H2HC techniques, it helps to distract him. To do that successfully, you must first figure out what he wants because that will determine what you need to say or do. Richard Dimitri recommends asking the assailant a question that forces him to think, thus creating a momentary hesitation. It will permit you to use your hands in a manner that's consistent with the behavior he expects from someone who's terrified. What appears to be a pleading gesture on your part can be an excellent way to maneuver your hands closer to his weapon.
When it comes to physical responses, senshido founder Richard Dimitri advocates learning principles rather than specific H2HC defenses. Planning to use specific H2HC defenses is problematic, he says, for two reasons: You need to learn a technique for every possible situation, and remembering and effectively executing the right H2HC technique in a split second is nearly impossible in real street fights.
The shortcoming is exacerbated by instructors of self-defense training who create unnatural situations in the dojo to make their techniques work. For example, if your partner attacks you in a realistic manner, with his knife moving quickly and changing from a slash to a thrust or from one angle to another, it's unrealistic to expect that you can discern the angle of attack and apply the appropriate response. That's why you need to have general H2HC principles that work against a variety of offenses that you may encounter in real street fights.
Some of Richard Dimitri's H2HC strategies for knife defense depend on whether the weapon is stationary or moving, while others apply to all situations. Common to both is the need to avoid getting cut in a vital area (neck, heart, inner thigh, etc.), even if it means placing a less-critical body part in the path of the blade.
Next, Richard Dimitri says, you must clear your body. That means ascertaining how the knife has to move to hurt you and then shifting in the opposite direction to get out of harm's way. You should also attempt to seize the attacker's arm and pin it against something to stabilize the weapon and prevent it from damaging you. Securing the knife need not occupy both your hands for the rest of the fight; once you have control of it, you can briefly let go with one hand and strike a vital area. As soon as you do that, however, you should go back to securing the weapon.
Finally, you need to neutralize him using the most effective means available. Aim to inflict maximum injury so he concentrates on the pain rather than on attacking you.
Injury Potential During H2HC in Real Street Fights
Martial artists love to argue over whether you should expect to get cut during a knife attack. Although some claim it's defeatist to tell yourself you'll be injured, senshido founder Richard Dimitri says you should anticipate getting sliced so you don't freeze or panic if it happens.
He relates a story about getting slashed across the chest with a knife back when he was new to the martial arts. He stopped to look at the gash before re-engaging. Afterward, he realized that if the knifer had been more competent, he'd have taken advantage of Richard Dimitri's momentary distraction and finished him.
Appropriate Response to Injury in H2HC
Don't buy into claims that you'll pass out or die if you get stabbed in a specific spot, Richard Dimitri says. If it happens, it happens, but you can often keep on fighting.
How does that translate to H2HC training for real street fights? Never quit. Even if you sustain a “fatal" stab with a rubber knife, continue to fight back. In real street fights, according to Richard Dimtri, people survive knife attacks — some of which involve multiple stabs and slashes — all the time.
Senshido Founder Richard Dimitri's Principles for H2HC in Real Street Fights
Many of the H2HC principles Richard Dimitri teaches in senshido for nullifying a static attack hold true for knives and firearms. Whether you're held at knifepoint or gunpoint, it's essential to employ a passive stance that has your hands moving slowly in a manner that's congruous with someone who's scared. During this time, your adversary will be extremely aware and tense while he measures your ability to resist. If you make any sudden moves, you could be stabbed or shot.
One of the most important parts of weapons defense against a static attack is playing along with the attacker to cultivate a false sense of security and distract him. Efforts to verbally de-escalate the tension will likely lower his guard and bolster his ego. Then, if you need to get physical and use H2HC techniques, he'll be less prepared to react.
This concept forms the foundation of Richard Dimitri's behavioral approach to self-defense, and it's emphasized throughout senshido.
H2HC Options in Real Street Fights
If you find yourself facing a static knife attack at a distance, running away is usually the best option. Grabbing an improvised weapon is also good, as long as doing so doesn't leave you open to your opponent's rush.
Because you can't realistically expect to discern the nature of a moving knife attack and then select and execute the proper defense, it's even more important to follow Richard Dimitri's belief that H2HC principles trump H2HC techniques.
On the subject of trying to control the weapon versus attacking the attacker in H2HC, he leans toward controlling the weapon. However, if that's not immediately doable, you should switch to an H2HC plan that takes advantage of whatever your opponent makes available — attacking his weapon hand, overwhelming him with strikes or decimating him with the senshido “shredder" technique.
When facing a dynamic knife attack, assume a posture that makes it hard for the blade to reach your vital areas, Richard Dimitri says. Your chin should be tucked and your shoulders raised to protect your neck and throat. Your arms should be up in a boxing-style stance with the backs of your arms toward the knife and your hands closed.
Your ability to block his offensive moves is but a minor obstacle for the assailant, H2HC expert Richard Dimitri says. After his strikes are stopped a few times — at most — he'll start stabbing from another angle. That's why Richard Dimitri advocates jamming his arm against his body or otherwise grabbing it and anchoring it to arrest the knife's movement.
A firm anchor involves wrapping the limb and cupping the elbow while pinning it to your body. As soon as the knife is stabilized, pummel the attacker to put him on the defensive. Then he'll be more concerned with avoiding what you're doing to him than with attacking you.
"Jamming" in Real Street Fights
Jamming shouldn't be confused with blocking, parrying or passing. Jamming entails slamming your forearms or hands into the attacker's knife arm with the goal of immobilizing it. Jams are preferred because they're gross-motor movements and can be used on a variety of H2HC attacks in real street fights.
Ideally, one of your hands should jam the biceps of his thrusting arm and the other his wrist. Make sure you drive forward with your whole body. Using only your arms is weak and leaves you overextended and vulnerable.
Moving in to jam the knife might get you cut, but it offers the best chance of controlling the weapon, thus minimizing the overall damage while getting you into position for the shredder from Richard Dimtri's art of senshido.
The shredder is a spontaneous fusillade of gross-motor attacks such as eye gouges, face rakes, ear and nose rips, bites, hair pulls, neck wrenches and throat crushes. The onslaught also can include elbows, head butts and other close-range assaults, making it perfect for real street fights.
As soon as you pin the knife arm against his body, use one hand to keep it there. With the other one, attack his eyes or throat.
If the knife isn't within jamming range, Richard Dimitri says, you must attack him as viciously as possible. Your aim is to make him more concerned with defending himself than with stabbing you, thus reversing the predator/prey mentality.
If he's outside “traffic range" — the distance at which both parties are close enough to hit each other — remain far enough back to force him to telegraph his intentions before he can get to you.
If he's close but not lunging toward you, Richard Dimitri favors throwing quick, low-line kicks to get him to back off or to distract him before you drive forward with a jamming technique. Kick with the leg that's closest to him.
H2HC in Real Street Fights Involving Firearms
Against a firearm, remember that you're facing a projectile weapon that has an extended range, which makes it more dangerous in some respects. However, because the bullet can come out of the barrel only one way, the muzzle must be pointed at you to inflict damage. And since a gun is held steady when it's used — the attacker doesn't wave it around like a knife — it's easier to grab or divert at close range in real street fights.
You must be close to the gunman before you can disarm him. If the firearm isn't within reach, you'll need to bridge the gap using dialogue. Say something that will elicit his interest, then distract him and get him to lower his guard. Remain passive; don't challenge or threaten him.
For example, you might point to your pocket and say, “My spare cash is here; I'll give it all to you if you want." Meanwhile, you edge closer to the gunman, making sure to move your hands in a manner that's consistent with being scared while you offer him the money.
Then grab the gun and direct the muzzle away from you. If you're near other people, try not to point it in their direction, either. That consideration is often overlooked in the dojo, where disarms may be effected without concern for bystanders that may be present during the H2HC of real street fights.
Although an H2HC knife defense that involves grabbing the attacker's wrist is permissible because it's tough for the opponent to stab, such a strategy won't work for gun defense in real street fights. The reason: Even if you control the wrist, he can probably bend it enough to shoot you. You must seize the hand or the weapon. Once that's done, explode with counterattacks.
Richard Dimitri knows that when it comes to H2HC weapons defense in real street fights, there are no guarantees. However, if you concentrate on the facets of fighting described above, you'll be better able to turn the tables on an attacker when you otherwise wouldn't have stood a chance.
About the Author:
E. Lawrence is a freelance writer who specializes in reality-based fighting. For more information about H2HC expert Richard Dimitri and senshido, visit senshido.com.